28 Giu

Outrage Over a Storied Roman Theater’s Future

new york times

THE NEW YORK TIMES, TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2011

Outrage Over a Storied Roman Theater’s Future

By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO

ROME — Real-time drama is taking place at the Teatro Valle, the storied theater here where Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author” was first performed 90 years ago.

For nearly two weeks the space has been occupied by a changing cast of theater workers — actors, seamstresses, lighting technicians and prop masters — who are protesting the privatization of a stage once graced by some of Europe’s greatest thespians, from Sarah Bernhardt to Vittorio Gassman.

The front foyer has been commandeered into an operations- center-cum-mess hall. On a recent afternoon a half-dozen protesters sat hunched over comput- ers, updating Facebook pages, editing blogs and videos and drafting statements calling for a cultural revolution to overturn the decline of the arts in Italy.

The open forums, held here ev- ery afternoon, have drawn hun- dreds of participants — including famous Italian actors and directors — and many more have been packing impromptu nightly con- certs and recitals.

“We had to resort to an extreme form of protest to signal the emergency,” said Ilenia Caleo, a Roman actress and per- former, who has made the theater her primary residence since it was first occupied on June 14.

The occupation was inspired by rumors that the Valle — founded in 1727 and affiliated with a state organization to promote Italian theater that was shut down last year — would be privatized, putting at risk its identity as a renowned platform for theatrical innovation.

The Culture Ministry this month entrusted the Valle to the Teatro di Roma, the city’s munici- pal theater company, which will be responsible for the 2011-12 sea- son while an international competition begins to find private management.

But the temporary reprieve has not quelled the protests, which have ballooned into a broader indictment of govern- ment cultural policies that have reduced financing for the arts, even as lawmakers praise Italy’s rich cultural patrimony as central to the nation’s economic growth. (Private investment in the arts remains limited.)

Over the weekend, another group of protesters occupied the Macro, Rome’s recently restored contemporary-art space, which is also struggling financially. At a conference in Rome last week, Culture Minister Giancarlo Galan painted a bleak picture of the state of Italy’s arts. In 2001 his ministry received 2.2 billion euros ($3.1 billion) a year; in 2009 the budget had shrunk to 1.7 billion euros. “It’s true that the ministry receives fewer funds, but let’s face it, a lot of money was spent badly in the past,” Francesco Maria Giro, the deputy culture minister, said in a telephone interview. The government, he said, would not shrink from its support of the performing arts. But in a moment of economic crisis, theaters as well as other cultural institutions “must start looking for alterna- tive forms of funding” and de- velop other strategies, he said.

Rome city officials have pledged 1.3 million euros for the coming season at the Valle and say they are willing to let the protesters have a voice in its future.

“It’s unthinkable that we would distort the theater’s legacy,” said Dino Gasperini, Rome’s cultural chief. “It will remain an important site of experimentation and repertoire.”

But such promises miss the larger point, said Benedetta Cappon, a protester. “In Italy we pass from emergency to emergency, without trying to reform the system,” she said.

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